Louise Bell: What I want in a show hunter *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Making my debut on the British Nations Cup dressage team and assessing the ride on some of the UK’s top hunters made for an extra special Royal International. People ask how I switch from one discipline to the other, but showing is in my blood.

    I know exactly what I want in a show hunter: a horse that turns everyone’s heads and gives a ride to equal its looks. A dressage horse will carry itself more than a show hunter, because a hunter won’t have had the same education, but there is an essential basic way of going. I want a correct, free-moving walk, trot and canter and a gallop powered by an engine that lets you keep up without being run off with.

    It was a joy to ride these horses, especially in the main ring and in that special atmosphere. In the championship, I was the last of the three judges to ride the heavyweight, who finished reserve, and his engine was running as well as ever. Our champion, the lightweight (View Point), was just class and gave a superb ride. Show horses need to have presence and you couldn’t take your eyes off him.

    A few brake adjustments

    I’d say 90% of the horses I rode were fit enough and I was really impressed that none looked overweight. That means the societies are getting the message across and competitors are paying attention.

    A few horses needed brake adjustments. One had fabulous potential, but didn’t have a good enough mouth.

    I believe a bad mouth comes down to lack of education. In showing, riders can “cheat” by trying to disguise this through bitting. Eventually, this will catch up with you. Teaching a horse to carry itself in a balanced way in a snaffle before advancing to a double bridle isn’t always easy or quick, but it’s worth it.

    Another gave me a beautiful ride despite a spook and was the best galloper. This horse let me ride it into the bridle without pulling or leaning, which is something else I won’t compromise on, and my co-judge and I moved it up the line.

    I want horses to go forward without me having to kick. I’d be exhausted if I had to do that out hunting. It’s so much better to ride a forward-going horses than one which thinks backwards — and the same applies in dressage.

    Some lacked the ability to bend. Next day, I was stiff down my left side at first because of having to use my inside leg so much to push horses into the outside rein. It wasn’t helped by the legacy of injury from an old road accident, but it highlighted some horses’ weakness.

    Exciting supreme

    Final thoughts — I loved the supreme championship judging system, where judges held up score cards. It was exciting for spectators and created a great atmosphere. How about incorporating spectator scoring, as happens at some dressage shows abroad?

    Spectators use handsets or a mobile phone app to register their scores, which increases involvement. It’s a move that could be great for showing, too.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 2 August 2018